Bellarine Historical Society Inc

...preserving the history of the Bellarine Peninsula

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The township of Drysdale in Victoria, Australia, is situated on the Bellarine Peninsula which runs easterly from the large regional centre of Geelong and ends at Point Lonsdale, one of the heads at the entrance of Port Phillip Bay.

Drysdale in the 1990s

Drysdale today retains some of its former rural character but has, along with its adjoining township of Clifton Springs, become a commuter and retirement township. This change of demographic character of Drysdale has led to a vast expansion of the shopping centre, perhaps at a speed greater than is supported by sustainable demand.

The township was the administrative centre of the former Bellarine Rural City (previously the Shire of Bellarine) but is now included in the City of Greater Geelong, being about 91 kilometres south west of Melbourne via Geelong.

For the tourist Drysdale offers passive recreation at McLeod's Water Holes, Lake Lorne, golf courses at Curlewis and Clifton Springs and the Bellarine Peninsula Railway which connects with Queenscliff and of which Drysdale is the present inland terminus.

Due to the brick and stone construction carried out in past years, there still remain church buildings, the former Shire Offices and Court House (now the Bellarine Historical Society Museum) and 'Coriyule' homestead - all over one hundred years old.

Collins Street, Drysdale

Drysdale - Collins Street pre 1900, showing Ironmongers on the left.
[Photograph #494 : The Bellarine Historical Society photograph collection]

The name 'Drysdale'

The township of Drysdale takes its name from Miss Anne Drysdale who had owned farming property in Scotland prior to migrating for health reasons to Port Phillip where she arrived in March, 1840. Miss Drysdale and her business partner, Miss Caroline Elizabeth Newcomb, had a licence to occupy 'Boronggoop', a "squatting" run situated between the Barwon River and Corio Bay, which was later extended to Leep Leep near Lake Connewarre.

In 1843 these ladies obtained a leas of Coriyule (sometimes spelt Coryule) in the district now known as Drysdale but previously known as McLeod's Waterholes and Bellerine. In 1848 they were able to purchase 1,357 acres (approximately 550 hectares) which included Coriyule on which the still existing stone homestead was constructed in 1849.

Anne Drysdale died in 1853 at the age of 61 years. She was buried at Coriyule. Caroline Newcomb then became the sole owner of Coriyule and in 1861 married the Reverend James D. Dodgson with whom she left Drysdale in 1864 as he moved around circuits in his ministry in the Wesleyan (Methodist) church. She died at Brunswick (Victoria) in 1874 and was buried at Coriyule.

In 1887 the vault which contained the remains of the two ladies was moved to Eastern Cemetery at Geelong just prior to the sale of Coriyule by Rev. Dodgson.

Early Land Settlement

The Kooris had a number of camps on the Bellarine Peninsula. They were of the Wathaurong tribe whose territory stretched between Geelong and Mount Buninyong near Ballarat. Mr. R. Gallop who arrived in Drysdale in 1855 wrote in an article for the Drysdale Messenger in 1900 that aborigines had camped at the Water Holes in 1855 but had disappeared by 1900. It has been reported that there was a Koori coroboree ground near where the present Uniting (previously Methodist) church is situated near the top of the rise in High Street.

British colonial explorers, although passing through rather than settling in the Drysdale region played a key role in its permanent settlement. The first British party to see the Bellarine Peninsula was that led by Captain John Murray in 1802 who wrote a favourable report of the land around Swan Bay (near the present township of Queenscliff). In the same year Captain Matthew Flinders also entered Port Phillip Bay and landed at Indented Head to the east of present day Drysdale. Following these discoveries, Governor King in Sydney in 1803 sent a survey party led by Charles Grimes to assess the potential for settlement of the Port Phillip area. This survey showed that good agricultural land existed in the district now known as Drysdale.

In 1803 William Buckley and two others escaped from the settlement at the present site of Sorrento which was under the control of Lieutenant Colonel David Collins. Buckley's two companions turned back towards the Sorrento settlement but Buckley continued on until he was adopted by a koori tribe near the mouth of the Barwon River. In 1835, Buckley met and made himself known to members of John Batman's party which tried unsuccessfully to obtain land by purchase from the kooris, and remained on the peninsula for several months.

The next occupiers of the Bellarine peninsula were squatters. In the Australian historical context, the term "squatter" applied to a person or group of persons who occupied land without owning the freehold thereof. At first these squatters acted without legal sanction but from 1836 Governor Bourke (of New South Wales - which then included the Port Phillip District later known as Victoria) began issuing licences for the occupation of unalienated Crown Land at a price of 10 pounds ($20) per year. By the time squatting occupation of the Bellarine Peninsula took place this legalised system of squatting was in operation.

Squatters who occupied land near Drysdale included Thomas Sproat and Edmond Steele (who occupied Coriyule until its transfer to Drysdale and Newcomb in 1843.)

Land near Drysdale was first sold by the Crown in 1848 and all crown land available for sale was sold by the early 1850s. Thereafter except for township allotments, which were sold by the Crown until the 1880s, sales of land around Drysdale (mainly for farming) were on behalf of private owners who usually subdivided the large Crown allotments in the Parish of Bellarine. This meant that the district was not subject to selection of large areas of land under the Selection Acts of the 1860s as were districts more distant from Melbourne.


After being used for a short time under squatting licences, the Bellarine Peninsula including the Drysdale district was an important farming area and had an active farmers' association from the 1850s. Grain crops, particularly wheat, were an important farming activity in the 1860s. There was a flour mill from 1854 until it burned down in 1861 and this mill had its own jetty. However, climatic and commercial problems - land cost (including rents) and prices received for the harvested crop - led to a decline in wheat cropping until it was relatively unimportant by the 1880s. Onion growing took over as the major crop around Drysdale from the 1870s. Weeding of this crop was in the early years done by hand. Sowing of the crop was made easier from 1877 as the onion drill was invented by James Grieve who, before coming to Drysdale, had been a clockmaker in Scotland. By 1904 the "Bellarine Onion Drill" was reputed to be useful in sowing seed of many kinds of vegetables. Onions were transport by means of the pier at Portarlington and the railway station at Drysdale which became available with the opening of the South Geelong to Queenscliff railway in 1879.

Potatoes were an important crop around Drysdale in the 19th century and are still grown today. The Bellarine Peninsula is a major source of potatoes in Victoria.

In days when horses were important on both farms and roads, hay production was important and the area around Drysdale was a prominent producer of this commodity.

Development of the Township & Local Government

From the late 1840s there appeared in Drysdale hotels, churches - and schools operated by them - and stores. The hotel which survived, the Buck's Head - now replaced by the Drysdale Hotel - was at the intersection where six roads met and this area became the centre of commercial and other community activity although it was at the far north-eastern corner of the town as planned by the government. Early hotels were the aforesaid Buck's Head and the short lived Baker's Arms which took its name from a bakery and grocery business which was located at the same address.

Early schools were operated by churches in their own buildings until the Education Act of 1872 made schooling for which the government provided funding free, compulsory and secular. This led to a government takeover and amalgamation of the former Free Presbyterian and Church of England schools and the closure of the Roman Catholic School (St. Joseph's) although it was soon opened and remained open until so until its building was burnt in 1943. (In 1996 the Christian College based at Highton opened a junior campus at the former council offices at Drysdale and a new Roman Catholic primary and secondary college and a new campus of the Bellarine Secondary College are to be opened in Drysdale in 1997.) Old church buildings which remain are St. Thomas' Roman Catholic (built in 1855), Free Presbyterian (now the R.S.L. hall - built in the early 1850s), St. James Anglican Church (built in 1871-2), Uniting Church (the fourth site of Wesleyan and Methodist buildings and opened in 1888).

The Drysdale Free Library building, now a craft shop, was opened in 1881. An assembly room was added in 1882; it is now used by the Scout group. The United Service Home for Veterans in Crimea Street operated from 1891 until 1922 and is now a private residence.

Local Government

The first local government body to operate for Drysdale district was the Road Board for the Portarlington Roads District which was formed in 1854. Early meetings of this board were at the Buck's Head inn or at Coriyule. As the name implies, this board was concerned with the construction and maintenance of public roads and received its funding from Central Road Board grants, the levying of rates on landowners and the collection of tolls from users of the main roads. The Roads District was enlarged to become the Indented Heads Road District in 1860 and was granted shire status with the proclamation of the Shire of Bellarine in September, 1865. The Shire Council was responsible for a wider range of services than was the former Board. The Shire became the Rural City of Bellarine in 1989 and was included in the City of Greater Geelong in 1993.

The regular meeting place of the Board and Council was at Drysdale until the amalgamation into the City of Greater Geelong. The first Board office was a small weatherboard building which was erected in 1855. In 1888 a new brick building, which was also to serve as a courthouse, was erected and continued to be used as a Council meeting place until 1962 when it was replaced by a new office complex in Collins Street and as a courthouse until 1971.

[From Max & Floss Proctor, Members of the Bellarine Historical Society]

Record Sources for Drysdale

  • Photographs : Bellarine Historical Society; Geelong Historical Records Centre; various private collections.
  • Maps & Plans : Bellarine Historical Society; Geelong Historical Records Centre.
  • Newspapers : Geelong Advertiser Indexes - Bellarine Historical Society & Geelong Historical Records Centre; Geelong Advertiser on microfilm - Geelong Historical Records Centre; various local newspapers - Bellarine Historical Society.
  • Miscellaneous Documents & Advertisements : Bellarine Historical Society; Geelong Historical Records Centre; various private collections.
  • Bellarine Shire Council Records : Geelong Historical Records Centre.
  • More recent Council Records : City of Greater Geelong.
  • Cemetery Records : (Drysdale/Bellarine Cemetery) Bellarine Historical Society; Geelong Historical Records Centre.
  • Land Records : Registrar of Titles, Melbourne; Bellarine Historical Society; Geelong Historical Records Centre.


Brownhill, Geo. H. Illustrated Guide to Geelong And District, Facsimile edn., Deakin University Press, Geelong, 1990.

Campbell, A. J. Tourist Guide to Geelong and Southern Watering Places, Henry Thacker, Geelong, 1893.

Drysdale Fire Brigade : The First 50 Years : 1944-1994, Drysdale, 1994.

Hourn, F.C. (Eric). United Services Home : A Drysdale Romance, F.C. Hourn, Indented Head, 1991.

Knights, Ann, & Wilson, Betty. The Sword of Faith : A History of St. James' Church Drysdale 1871-1996, Revised and Updated, Drysdale, 1997.

Richardson, John. Clifton Springs : Past - Present, 2nd reprint, Bellarine Rural City Council, Drysdale, 1985.

Richardson, John. The Lady Squatters : Miss Anne Drysdale and Miss Caroline Elizabeth Newcomb : 'Boronggoop' and 'Coriyule', Bellarine Rural City Council, Drysdale, 1986.

Wynd, Ian. Balla-wein : A history of the Shire of Bellarine, Shire of Bellarine, Drysdale, 1988.

Wynd, Ian. Geelong The Pivot : A Short History of Geelong and District, Cypress Books, Mont Albert North, 1971.

Last Updated on Sunday, 10 May 2009 15:05  

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